KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Chiefs general manager John Dorsey likes to say that it takes two years minimum, and often three or more, to determine whether a draft choice was a success or failure.
Good thing for Dee Ford.
After a rookie season in which he barely got onto the field, the young pass rusher finally showed Sunday why Dorsey made him a first-round pick. In place of injured All-Pro Justin Houston, Ford racked up three sacks of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, then blanketed running back Danny Woodhead on the final play of the game to force an incompletion and preserve a 10-3 victory.
“There are going to be some things he needs to work on coming out of it,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “but at the same time, he was off the ball fast. I thought he did a heck of a job.”
In fact, he did a Houston-like job.
The first multi-sack game of Ford’s career was also the first time a Kansas City player had three or more in a game since Houston, out with a hyperextended knee, had four against San Diego last year.
“You start to get a feel of the game — and I spoke on that a lot — once you experience and you get to your first sack, then there comes the second one, there comes the third,” Ford said. “You just have to really be aware of that scenario and really take advantage of it.”
Few outside the Southeastern Conference knew much about Ford when he was chosen out of Auburn two years ago. He was a solid but unspectacular pass rusher with questionable coverage skills who, most of the draft pundits said, was a reach to go in the first round to Kansas City.
Especially when the Chiefs already had Houston and Tamba Hali.
But Dorsey grew up in the Ron Wolfe school of draft philosophy, and that means taking the best player available regardless of position. It’s why Dorsey, a former Packers executive, helped take Aaron Rodgers in the first round in Green Bay with Brett Favre already under center.
So when Ford was still on the board when it came time for the Chiefs to draft, Dorsey looked at his wall and saw the speedy linebacker at the time of his pecking order. He made the call.
Dorsey was questioned about the move at the time. And the questions never faded as Ford failed to start a game as a rookie, compiling three tackles and 1 1/2 sacks all season.
“Had I listened to the noise, I wouldn’t have been ready for any of the opportunities that I was presented now,” Ford said. “Through last year and this year, you have to be patient. With whatever your role is, you have to fill it out. Be man enough to humble yourself and learn from two of the greatest linebackers in this league and I’ve been able to do some things.”
There is no timetable for Houston’s return — the Chiefs merely call him day to day. And when he returns, there is a good chance Ford returns to his role as a situational pass rusher.
But with the 32-year-old Hali heading toward free agency, and on the downward side of his standout career, the Chiefs will begin looking toward the future. That could mean Ford moves into the lineup as the regular starter opposite Houston as soon as next year.
It was a thought that made Chiefs fans shudder just a few days ago.
It’s one that sounds a whole lot better after Sunday.
“He’s a first-round pick. Everybody expects him to do really good,” fellow Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “When you have opportunities like he did, seize the moment and get better from there. There’s plenty of things you can get better from. Football is never perfect, but hat’s off to Dee. He did a great job stepping in due to Justin Houston being hurt and he did a heck of a job.”